This week, public and private celebrations are being held in honor of KBTX's 60th anniversary. With that, I'm looking back on some memorable moments and people from my 12 years-plus at the Brazos Valley's first television station.
The world of television news is a demanding, tough, sometimes troublesome one. The days and nights bring moments of inspiration and celebration, but also drama, sadness and anger because of the stories covered and the people dealt with each day. To navigate it, you need to be a person of strength surrounded by people of strength.
More often than not, KBTX's staff members have served one another while serving the community. The word "family" is regularly used, something truly only understandable if you've been a part of it. Families honor each other, rejoice with each other, fight with each other and make up with each other.
In my tenure at the station, I made some immensely close friends and had some wonderful times. The joy my stint there brought me far outweighed anything else. I think many would say the same thing.
Sadly, though, there were occasions where we lost members of our family, losses that still stick with me and others, though so do great memories.
Three weeks into my time at the station, we lost Matthew Moore at the age of 23. He started as a sports intern at the station while he finished his education at Texas A&M. When he graduated in 2003, he started full-time as a photographer.
Matt shot my first story, a visually-light piece on a new test for West Nile Virus at the local health department. He made it work better than I imagined and got the story to air. In the coming weeks, he was one of the family members that made the new guy feel at home in a new place and a new career. We would talk sports a lot. In fact, Matt was due to come to my apartment on June 8, 2004 to watch his Los Angeles Lakers try to even the NBA Finals at a game a piece against the Detroit Pistons.
Instead, that afternoon, while setting up a live van as part of coverage of an oilfield accident near Hearne, Matt raised the large metal mast into power lines. He would die there.
Remarkably, reporter Jennifer Cavazos was inside the van with two interns, but saved her life and theirs as sparks flew and the van charged. Each would jump to safety as Jenn's training had taught her. Sadly, Jennifer died of health complications in 2010 at the age of 33. She was a hero in a moment of tragedy that could have been even more tragic.
As with all journalists who have lost their lives on the job, Matthew Moore has been inscribed on the Journalists Memorial at the Newseum in Washington. Each time I've gone, I've spent time in reflection of a person I wish I could have gotten to know more. Those who did know him describe a quick wit with a love of sports, kids and getting the best shots for his stories. Those shots were supposedly close to landing him a job at a station in Austin. Surely, his maroon and white roots wouldn't have been touched in the land of burnt orange, nor would his status as a wonderful friend and a caring soul.
Jon Boaz was a staple of KBTX for a quarter century. At home, people saw him anchoring the 5:00 p.m. and morning newscasts for about 15 of those years. Behind the scenes, he was a force in the sales team, eventually leading it as general sales manager, the number two position at the station.
Jon and I wouldn't see each other often because of the different hours we'd work, but inevitably, our dry senses of humor would quickly manifest themselves in any interaction. The joking about our respective appendectomies sticks out, as does a YouTube video he and I, as former and then-current morning show anchors, did together for the show's channel. Some of his on-air bloopers are in-house classics. Keeping a straight face around Jon was a challenge, although he always sought to deliver news of the day seriously and carefully. He succeeded.
All of that and more is what made Jon's loss on April 1, 2011 all the more difficult. So did the quickness that his death came. Flu-like symptoms kept him home from work and eventually took him to a hospital. Doctors found lymphoma, and the cancer couldn't be overcome. He was 48 years old.
As with Matt Moore, I was asked to do Jon's obituary for our newscasts. I wrapped up my piece with a line I thought rang true: that our halls were emptier and quieter without him, but so much better because of him.
Jon Boaz was a kind, caring, hilarious, hard-working person who was beloved by many, including so many in the KBTX family. He's fondly remembered for his friendship and personality, but also his contributions to the community.
Mike George was demanding. When told that there wasn't an ability to do something, he often refused that answer, instead asking what it would take to make it happen. But with those demands came encouragement and teaching.
Having started his career at KBTX after college, Mike would go from being in front of the camera to being behind it, guiding major market newsroom operations across the country. When he was hired to come home and be our news director, it was a huge coup.
The man who led KBTX's newsroom for five-and-a-half years beginning in 2008 had lots to teach me, especially in the "being demanding" department, which has to be done in the right way. I wasn't a good listener at the beginning of his tenure, but he never gave up on me. His lessons came with laughs one day and tears the next. No one I've worked so closely with invested so much emotion in me.
His retirement in 2013 was sad, especially considering he had led our newsroom to the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters' overall excellence award not long before he stepped down. But he continued to live in the area, always watching, often commenting and encouraging.
When I was days out from going to Afghanistan on assignment, we spent an evening at a local favorite of his, The Republic restaurant. He dropped far too much money that evening, but he thought I was worth it for whatever reason.
A few months later, Mike would die at the age of 51. We all knew he had so much more to give, but many didn't fully know how much he had given. At his funeral, stories of his generosity with his wealth raised eyebrows and caused shed tears. He had funded church missions and new businesses, to name just a fraction of his giving. A get-together at a fancy restaurant ahead of an overseas assignment was a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the caring Mike had done in his life.
In October 2014, a little more than half-a-year since the trip to Afghanistan, my partner on the assignment and I won a Lone Star Emmy for the coverage. I left the event in Houston that night, drove back to College Station with the trophy and went to The Republic. With friends of mine and Mike's there, I put the Emmy at the place at the bar Mike would always find himself at, the spot he and I spent a January evening at reminiscing about lessons and successes.
I treasure those two nights. Neither would have been possible if it weren't for the level Mike cared. He was a force of nature, an incredible influence, a determined leader, a steadfast listener. Our newsroom and its staff was so much better for it.
Outside the front entrance of KBTX, there are three memorial trees planted, one for Matt Moore, one for Jon Boaz, one for Mike George. Heavy is the sadness because they're no longer with us in body, but it's only heavy because of the light they brought into our lives and their work. Their legacies enrich a great station. Their lives enriched so many.